Most of the governments also monitor the use of the internet by its citizens because of various reasons. Although this has raised ethical concerns, such surveillance has been justified by the governments which apply them. Although many governments cite security reasons as the cause for surveillance, some people feel that this act results to unauthorized access of information that may not be pose any danger to the security of the country. The information obtained from surveillance may also be used for other purposes other than the one intended. There are two groups that view surveillance differently. The internet literate think that because they are proficient in the use of internet, then they do not need surveillance to interfere with their privacy. On the other hand, those who are social conscious think that the government should go ahead and do surveillance in order to protect them. The discovery of internet and the developments that is has undergone has no doubt led to loss of complete privacy that people enjoyed prior to this. In this paper, Government Surveillance of the Internet and its implications will be discussed.
The use of internet also known as the World Wide Web can be traced back to the 1960’s. The internet then was used by a small group of professionals like the scientists and did not have complex features. Over the years, internet has experienced a significant evolution in terms of the functions it can be used to perform and it has also become easily accessible by almost everyone. Most people have found it easier to use the internet as a means of carrying out business or just for communication or recreation purposes. Although the use of internet has improved people’s lives by making communication, business, research and access to any other information cheaper, easier and faster, there have been some dangers that it has posed to the people. To try and mitigate the negative effects that can arise through the use of internet, different organizations and individuals have tried to put several measures in place. For example, some employers monitor the use of internet by their employees
The concept of surveillance
The concept of surveillance has mostly been connected with agencies working for governments, although it has also been linked with activities such as gathering of personal information from the employees by private sectors (Bogard p3). Internet related surveillance has become increasingly common in the recent past. The culprits of this behavior have been both the government and the private sectors who try to gather important information about needs of the people which help in new innovations to meet these needs and also for the purposes of crimes detection and prevention in the case of the government related surveillance. Although these are the major reasons given by those who are involved in internet surveillance, there exist other reasons why people are involved in this behavior with some doing it just to intrude people’s privacy for selfish gains. In such cases, people who are very proficient in the area of internet may use this knowledge to punish or pry into other people’s private information. Surveillance by the government is therefore very helpful especially to those who may not be aware of such behavior.
The United States’ case of surveillance
In the United States, the government carries out internet surveillance on its citizens mainly because of security concerns. Before the terrorists’ attacks on the United States on September 11th, people and especially those in the private sectors were not comfortable with government’s surveillance on their internet activities because they saw this move as interfering to their privacy. Despite this discomfort, the government increased its surveillance on the internet and any other avenue that may be used to cause security threat in order to curb any future re occurrence of such. There was a significant change on the people’s attitudes since then because they were too concerned about their security and hence sought to work together with the government to help improve the state of security in the country.
Dandeker (p50) points out that the US government is using every possible means to detect and prevent any attacks from the terrorists and has formulated policies such as the total information awareness program amendment which allows the government to have access to some information that it may require due to security concerns. Although many people agree that this is an important step that the government has taken in ensuring that they live in a safe environment, there are also concerns about their privacy and how this move by the government has greatly interfered with it. There are fears that personal information that does not pose any danger to the country’s security may be accessed without the owner’s knowledge. Surveillance of internet by the government therefore creates the dilemma between the need of state protection to the citizens and that of protection of the people’s privacy. There is a need for the government to try and harmonize these two issues because they are both important. Measures should be put in place to ensure that the government is able to protect the country against attacks and at the same time refrain from intruding the citizen’s privacy.
There have been significant rise in the measures that have been put in place to protect the US citizens from attacks since the September 11th attack. There have been concerns that government’s surveillance on the people may lead to access of information that may be used for a different reason other than that of security reasons. To try and curb this, internet service providers who may be asked to provide the government with some confidential information to be provided with a court order requiring them to do so. They are very careful not to give out any unnecessary information that may lead to others accessing more information than what they need at a particular time. This also ensures that only specific people are able to access information about a third party even without their consent, if the court think it is necessary to do so. This is just one of the measures that have been put in place to protect people’s privacy. It has not been very easy for the internet providers also because of the requirements placed on them if the government needs certain information from them. This has posed a major challenge to these internet providers because they risk losing clients because the clients may not be very sure that the information they exchange using these networks are free from any outside intrusion. The internet service providers may end up losing their clients and suffer massive losses in the business.
To curb this problem, the government should in the coming years do sufficient analysis of the possible consequences of laws that promote surveillance. Measures should be put in place to prevent unnecessary intrusion on the citizen’s privacy. The war on terrorism, though important because of the overall national security, should not be a reason for innocent citizens to suffer and be robbed of their precious right to privacy. Important basic rights of the people should be carefully guarded while at the same time protecting them from outside attacks by terrorists. The government should employ the help of experts in this area to see what can be done to harmonize these important concerns. They should try and do so without oppressing either side.
Factors that determine people’s attitudes toward surveillance
Different people hold different opinions on whether or not the government’s surveillance on the internet is ethical or right. There are two very important factors that affect such opinions. The level of literacy on internet and social consciousness are the two factors that play a great role in determining the people’s attitudes towards the government’s surveillance on the citizen’s use of internet.
The literacy level contributes significantly to the opinions that people form. Those people who are very competent in the use of internet are viewed to be in a better position to use their knowledge to intrude the internet transactions and communication of other internet users who may not be very competent in the use of internet and the procedures used in order for one can access other people’s private information. Such internet literate people may be of the opinion that they are competent enough to discover and detect any criminal activity and consequently, they may not need any protection from the government. These people are over confident and trust in their internet knowledge to carry on with their internet related activities and resist any attempts by the government to monitor internet usage.
For one to be said to be internet literate, they have to be able to perform certain internet related functions that are just beyond the normal computer application programs (Steinem p307). For any internet user, a certain level of competence and knowledge on internet is required to be able to perform even the simplest tasks. However, even while conducting such tasks, the internet users realize the need for more knowledge so that they are able to deal with some unforeseen problems like when one accidentally accesses material that is not morally right, which they may encounter while working on the internet. There is also the need for information on how one can protect their personal computers and the confidential information that could be stored in it, from access by unauthorized people who may want to maliciously damage it or access it for their own selfish gain. Internet literate people have sufficient knowledge on how to deal with any problems that may arise in the course of using internet and adequately equipped to handle such problems. Because of the vast knowledge such people posses concerning internet, they do not see the importance of being protected by the government and are very skeptical about any acts of government’s surveillance that may lead to intrusion of their privacies. The internet literate people therefore tend to place more importance on the need for privacy at the expense of the need for security.
On the other hand, there are those who are socially conscious and consider security needs as being of great concern. These people see the need for government surveillance for the purposes of security. Although they are aware of the importance of government’s surveillance to protect the citizens, they are also concerned about the possible negative effects on the people’s privacy. According to Regan (p 25), these people are more neutral on their opinion and tend to put equal weight on both the need for privacy and that of national security. They are aware of the government’s need to provide security to its citizens and at the same time protect their private space when it comes to the usage of internet related services. They emphasize on the need of educating people on the importance of government’s surveillance on internet and the possible negative implications, the major one being intrusion on people’s privacy.
Reasons for internet surveillance
Internet is one of the fastest and easy ways of sending and receiving both personal and business-related information. This has led to positive changes improvement of people lives and also growth in businesses. The internet has also been a useful tool in the hands of terrorists and other criminals in the society. It has been used to plan and execute attacks on those territories considered to belong to the enemies. Due to such cases, most governments leave nothing to chance and they use every available avenue to stop any attack from the terrorists or any execution of criminal activity within the country especially through the use of internet (Rosen p7).
The internet also, is a very vital source of any information that may be needed for security or for other purposes because of its ability to show detailed footprints electronically compared to other forms of media which are not as detailed as the internet. It is therefore a very useful tool in the hands of any government that can be used to significantly reduce the rates of crimes that are planned by use of the internet. There are different ways that the government can carry out its surveillance operations. One way is working in conjunction with the internet service providers and government agencies to get information about certain people or monitor the people they consider to be involved in criminal activities. Surveillance can also be done by using a special kind of software which is installed in a person’s computer without their knowledge.
Common beliefs about internet surveillance
There are different beliefs held by people with regard to government’s surveillance. Generally, there are two major beliefs that are held by people concerning government’s surveillance on the internet. The first belief is concerned with the need for security for the people and the second belief is the one concerned with the ethical issues on the effects of government surveillance on the internet usage
The importance of government surveillance on the internet
In this case, the government is involved in monitoring of all the possible harmful activities on the internet that may result to a breach of security (Lyon p 171). This enables the internet users to be safe and be comfortable in carrying out their personal and business transactions. Failure by the government to do this may expose the internet users to great risk. The risks may range from lack of confidentiality in information that one considers confidential due to it being accessed by other people through criminal activities such as hacking into the one’s personal computer. Other ways that can be used to access other people’s personal computers in order to access or destroy confidential and important information are the use of viruses and other destructive programs. The government’s surveillance therefore is appreciated by many people because it has helped in preventing some of these dangers that the people are faced with in their day to day internet transactions.
Concerns about the government’s intrusion into people’s privacy
These concerns stem from the acts of surveillance done by the government in an attempt to uphold the state of security in a country. According to Etzioni (p 280), this kind of monitoring by the government makes people uncomfortable to carry out their day to day internet exchanges and activities because of the awareness that they are under surveillance. The people are not only uncomfortable but also become unproductive in the places of work. This may be due to tension which may arise because one is not free to carry out their businesses privately without outside interference. Monitoring generally has a negative effect on those who are subjected to it. Even when they are not doing anything that may be considered dangerous. Perry (p 107) states that this is because it leads to low levels of motivation which may hinder productivity.
Flaherty (p 10) further argues that this may reduce online interactions even though they may be necessary and important due to the knowledge that one is being monitored and any information that is being sent or received may be recorded leading to further questioning by the government. Such inconveniences may cause people to develop a negative attitude towards the government’s initiative to use surveillance as a means of protecting the same people from terrorists and other forms of crime (Piaget p141).
The issue of government’s surveillance on internet has elicited different reactions by different people. The internet literate people hold on to the view that, surveillance is not necessary because they are able to deal with any kind of threat that may arise as they use the internet. These people view with contempt any attempt by the government to intrude into their privacy as they try to protect other people from any possible security threats. They are overly concerned with their privacy and do not put into consideration any other consequence that may arise if the government does not conduct monitoring on other internet users.
Others, on the other side embrace the need of such protection from the government because they feel that they are not competent enough to handle any attacks on their systems because they lack sufficient knowledge on internet. They therefore rely on the government entirely for their protection and also for the rest who may be in the same position as them. These are the people who would be willing to give up most of the things, even their right to enjoy privacy in their quest for protection. It is important for these two extremes to be harmonized in order for there to be a balance to avoid a case whereby one group feels that the government should not intrude into their privacy at all and the other group feels that the government has all the rights to intrude into their privacy in terms of the use of internet and hence denying them even the very basic rights. It is however clear that the improvements and discoveries that are continually being made on the internet will continue to cause problems with regard to people’s privacy because of the need by the government to monitor information on the internet for security concerns. This might remain to be so unless other means of monitoring are discovered, which will not intrude into people’s privacy and will be able to retrieve any information needed by the government.
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